As a foreigner living in Japan, it’s often difficult to blend it with the crowd. While at times this might be fun, at others it can be a catalyst for trouble.
Although Japan remains relatively safe, sex-related crimes are on the rise, with this year’s figures for train groping, stalking and rape at record highs.
Despite this, however, the resources available to those who have been victims of sex crimes and the willingness of authorities to tackle perpetrators are scant, and there is virtually no official assistance available for women who can’t speak Japanese.
Tokyo English Lifeline (TELL) Services Assistant Director, Alyssa Frohberg says these crimes can be reported, but not with a great amount of hope.
“If a woman wishes to file a police report, we recommend that she take an older Japanese male with her, as she will be taken more seriously.”
“Reporting sexual assault in your home country isn’t pleasant and here it is more sensitized. You’re going to get questions which are inappropriate and because it’s a sexual assault, there’s going to be a good deal of shame,” she said.
Like many who visit or live in Japan, Jane had heard about train gropers. From the start she was determined that if it ever happened to her she would be sure to speak out and humiliate the offender.
When it actually happened though, it was all very different.
“The train was so crowded I couldn’t even move my arms, I’d been pushed onto the train and I was completely surrounded by men. We were all so jammed in that I couldn’t actually tell whose hand it was,” she says.
“I wanted to scream ‘chikan,’ but as a foreigner, I doubted that anyone would actually help me. I thought everyone would just look the other way,” she said.
For women who are too shy or afraid to speak up at the time but wish to report train groping at a later date, consultation areas have been set up at Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Tokyo stations.
In these areas it’s possible to speak with a female officer, but not (now or seemingly in the future) with an English speaker.
“As far as I know there are no plans for the prefectural police agencies to station foreign speaking consultants anywhere,” said a representative from the National Police Agency, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Australian Miranda, has found herself the target of stalkers, gropers and weirdos alike.
Living in a gaijin house, she feels that the large concentration of foreigners living there tends to attract unwanted attention and curiosity.
In both of the guest houses she has lived in, she has head experiences with peeping toms.
“Last summer, I went to sleep with my window closed and was woken up by a sound to find my window open and a man standing at it,” she says.
“One of my Japanese housemates called the police, who soon came but couldn’t speak English. Nor were they very sympathetic,” she said.
This wasn’t the first time that the house’s occupants had had an uninvited guest.
A year earlier, another female foreign resident had woken to find a stranger at the end of her bed.
While calling the police is the obvious first option for those who have been the victim of attacks, many believe that they might also be able to call the citizen services of their home embassy in cases such as rape.
Unfortunately, however, the American Embassy isn’t so open to the idea.
“The U.S. Embassy has no role in cases involving private citizens. Many NGOs or counselors can provide advice on this type of situation.
“It’s not the role of the embassy,” an embassy representative says.
“If a crime has been committed, the case should be reported to the police.
“In Japan legal cases can be pursued through the Japanese judicial system,” said the representative, who wished to remain anonymous.
The representative also suggested citizens check the embassy Web site, which proves very useful if somebody is looking for information in regards to anthrax poisoning, but offers no suggestions for those who have been raped or molested.
When even official spokespeople are unwilling to use their names when answering questions on these issues, it’s no surprise that victims of sexual assault feel shame at reporting their cases.
For many Japanese, the only relief lies in the anonymous counseling lines such as the Tokyo Rape Crisis Centre, which operates on Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons.
However, as this service is currently run by volunteers there’s no English service available.
According to a volunteer from the center, if a caller speaks English from the start, he or she will probably be referred to TELL.
With so few options for support in Japan, some foreign women have decided that public humiliation of the perpetrator may be the only option left open to them.
Kathy was in a well-known Shibuya record store elevator when a Japanese man took a photo up her skirt.
“Suddenly, I saw a flash go off around my knees. I was stunned at first. I then looked down to see the man kneeling down and tying his shoelace.”
“It wasn’t until he ran out the elevator door before me that I actually realized what had happened. After thinking about it for a second I decided to chase him in an effort to scare him into not doing it again,” she said.
“He ran really fast, through traffic and in front of cars. I chased him the whole time.
“Not a single Japanese person looked twice but eventually an African American man came and tried to help.”
Though the man escaped, Kathy was satisfied she might just have scared the culprit into thinking twice before he tries the same thing again.